Season in Review: Defencemen
Defence is a lot more multi-faceted than is the forward position. It requires more finesse and more all around ability in order to rise to the upper echelon of NHL defencemen. The Leafs tried to compliment each of their offensive defencemen with a more defensive partner. This is a winning strategy often used on championship teams. With that in mind, of the six regulars on Toronto’s blue line at the end of the season, who rises to the top? Let’s find out.
Here are the offensive stats for the six regulars that ended the year with Toronto:
*Stats encompass all ES, PP and PK time
This is not a hefty amount of points. Phaneuf got off to a terribly slow start before going down with a fairly crippling injury. After said injury healed fully, Phaneuf exploded onto the scoresheet, attaining 10 points in the final 15 games of the season. Schenn benefitted from second powerplay unit time which will almost certainly disappear this coming season with the additions of John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schenn’s offensive totals take a small dip next season. Gunnarsson was another victim of an early season drought, in part because he was saddled with Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda for most of that time. From about the midway point on, Gunnarsson was paired with Schenn, a player that could compensate defensively and allow Gunnarsson to be more creative. He averaged the lowest time on ice totals for the group, save for Komisarek and Lebda. Offensively, Komisarek did what he always does. He was not expected to bring a lot of points with him when he was signed and that expectation has been met. The same can be said for Keith Aulie. Finally, Brett Lebda disappointed as much offensively as he did defensively. There isn’t much of a point to be made on Lebda yet, so let’s take a look at some possession stats.
Here are the Corsi statistics for the same group:
|Name||Corsi ON||Corsi OFF||Corsi REL|
*Stats encompass ES time only
Corsi is a possession statistic. It calculates chances taken, measured in shots (whether they be shots on goal, missed shots or blocked shots), and subtracts from that chances given. From this you get a Corsi rating. Corsi ON measures a team’s Corsi when that player is on the ice, so Brett Lebda tops this category with -1.08. Corsi OFF measures the team Corsi when that player is on the bench, with Gunnarsson having the best Corsi OFF of -5.96. Corsi REL subtracts Corsi OFF from Corsi ON to get a player’s true Corsi rating. Yes, you read that right: Brett Lebda had the best relative Corsi on the Leafs’ defence this season.
This demonstrates one flaw with the Corsi system that doesn’t often come up. Lebda would often take low quality shots, most of which were blocked, thus shooting his Corsi through the roof. His opponents would not get many shots, but Lebda’s defensive gaffes would allow them to take higher quality shots on a regular basis. This is reflected in goals for and against. For every 60 minutes Lebda played, the Leafs scored 1.89 goals. This is the lowest on the team, with Aulie coming in second at 2.12. Again for every 60 minutes Lebda played, the Leafs allowed 3.65 goals against. This is ludicrously high and Mike Komisarek, the second worst in this category, allowed only 2.89 goals against over the same time. If we then look at Aulie, who had the worst relative Corsi on the team, we see that for every 60 minutes he played, the Leafs allowed 2.22 goals against. That is the lowest on the team. Corsi is a very powerful statistic, but steps must be taken to ensure you do not look at it as dogma.
Finally, let’s take a look at some defensive stats:
|Name||Ozone%||Fin Ozone%||Blocked Shots||Hits|
*Blocked shots and hits encompass all ES, PP and PK time
Ozone% tracks the percentage of times a player starts their shift in the offensive zone, while Fin Ozone% tracks the percentage of times a player finishes their shift in the offensive zone. Ideally you want a low Ozone% and a higher Fin Ozone%. Lebda’s Ozone% is extremely high, coming in at 22nd league wide among defencemen that played 40 games. He also has the second lowest finishing percentage on the team, coming out to a -7.9% difference. Keith Aulie had the highest difference at +7.4%. Only Lebda seems to show signs of being sheltered from defensive play. He was also the only one of the six with a negative difference. Aulie and Gunnarsson are the two that stand out the most as most effective at leaving the defensive zone and gaining the offensive zone before ending their shifts. As for blocked shots, everyone but Lebda pulled their weight. Keith Aulie, who played one game less than Brett Lebda, managed to block 43 more shots and make 65 more hits. It is reasonable to conclude that the Leafs have some decent puck movers on the team already without taking into account the offseason additions.
For the 2010-11 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs defence corps proved to be, on the whole, competent defensively. However, their offensive output was extremely lacking and their third pairing was a nightmare. The offense will be greatly boosted by adding in Franson and Liles, so that combined with their already competent defence should lead to better results for next season. With a prospect pool as deep as it’s been in a decade, things may finally be looking up for the Toronto Maple Leafs.